Mould closes the Catholic Archives
Archbishop Emeritus Conti stands by decision and transfer plan in spite of opposition
Columba House, the Edinburgh home to the Scottish Catholic Archives for more than 50 years, has been closed indefinitely after mould was discovered on some of the historic documents stored there.
The pre- and post-restoration of the Scottish hierarchy archive collections at Columba House are the responsibility of the Trustees of the Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections Museum, who took the decision to close the facility after receiving reports from specialists in archive conservation and historic buildings. The trustees say that the mould is the result of dampness in Columba House’s main storage area in the sub-basement, which has been a recurrent problem.
Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti, chairman of the trustees, said this discovery reaffirmed his long-held contention that a new home for the archives was needed, and that plans made to move the pre-restoration of the Scottish hierarchy archive were necessary. “We have emphasised for some time that Columba House was not fit for purpose,” the archbishop emeritus said. “The latest reports confirm this. The question of the arrangements to be made for the papers covering the period from 1878 until the present will now have to be considered more urgently than had been expected. The condition of Columba House means that a new location for these modern records will have to be found.”
The trustees last year signed as an agreement with Aberdeen University under which the university agreed to house the pre-restoration of the Scottish hierarchy Catholic Archives on long-term loan in the university’s special collections centre in the iconic Sir Duncan Rice Library.
In light of the mould discovery, the trustees suggest that this transfer ‘is now not only desirable but also essential, to protect and preserve the historic archives for posterity, and to make them again available for research as soon as possible.’
The original decision to transfer part of the Catholic Archives to Aberdeen University sparked great controversy among Scottish historians. Professor Tom Devine, a leading Scottish historian, told the SCO that this latest decision to close Columba House was ‘a sad day for Scottish Catholic history, given the tremendous efforts made by past generations to preserve the heritage and history of the Scottish Catholic people before and after Reformation.’
“Now these treasures are to be dispersed, I am sure the University of Aberdeen will take great care of those materials they have or are about to receive,” he said. “But there remains the question of what is to happen to marvelous materials on modern Scottish Catholic history of the late 19th century to the present because there has been no indication of what will happen to them.”
The professor also said he believes that the whole affair has resulted in a great need for rapprochement between the Catholic hierarchy and Scotland’s historians
“During the campaign to prevent the dissemination of archives, eminent historians from around the globe—from Europe, America as well as Scotland—petitioned the Scottish Catholic hierarchy, asking them to think again,” he told the SCO. “The fact that the final decision on this lay with the bishops’ conference was never questioned, but, to my shame as a Scottish Catholic, very few of these message were responded to at all and some that did receive replies that were discourteous in the extreme. A good deal of healing between the Scottish academic community and the Scottish hierarchy remains to be done.”
Once the Catholic Archives have been treated by a team of specialist conservators, and the transfer has taken place, the trustees and Aberdeen University will publicise details of their availability for study by scholars and members of the public.
— The story was corrected online April 16 to make it clear that it is the pre-and post-restoration of the hierarchy archives that are being dealt with. The SCO apologises for the error in the original print edition.